In the United States, Sierra Leone often has ties to two uncomfortable truths. The first was the West African nation’s ties to the slave trade. The second was a connection to the consumption of the nation’s resources, specifically, “blood diamonds.” But the Lion Mountain is so much more, and today it represents yet another important American ally. Sadly, like many others in the region, unrest is evident after the people are losing faith in their government. Military coups are affecting West Africa, and the Sierra Leone people are at risk of losing democracy should things continue. Many believe this will also harm counterterrorism operations in the region.
Where Is Sierra Leone?
You’ll find Sierra Leone on the Atlantic coast of West Africa. Both Guinea and Liberia are the tropical country’s neighbors. Its capital, Freetown, maintains the tropical feel; however, there are plenty of swamps and plains.
Between 1991 and 2002, the nation was entangled in a civil war. This conflict would end in part because of the United States. Since then, the two nations have maintained positive relations with the U.S. helping prevent additional civil wars.
This helps preserve democracy and prevent terrorism from spreading. A civil war is not something the U.S. would wish in the region. However, these interests and the events in Freetown are why so many are paying attention to a potential coup attempt due to political unrest.
Where Is Freetown?
Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown is right on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a port playing a vital role in the area’s economy as well as the world at large. Founded by British Naval Lieutenant John Clarkson, along with freed slaves, it was a colony from March 11, 1792 until April 27, 1961.
Staging a coup, prison breaks, and several months of unrest have made Sierra Leone news throughout 2023. Freetown being a populous capital, it’s the perfect place to make a statement. Now, more eyes are on the nation to see what comes next.
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Curfews, Coups, and Conflict
Gunshots rattled Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, on the morning of November 26, 2023. This marks a coup attempt, as armed individuals sought to breach a military base’s armory near the president’s residence.
Two main prisons were targeted, leading to the release of some inmates. The Army reports at least 19 casualties, including 13 troops. The government has arrested 13 military officers and one civilian in connection with the incident.
Videos circulating on social media suggest multiple prisoners, including rapper Boss LAJ, escaped from Freetown’s Central Pademba Road prison. Recent unrest, possibly linked to a coup plot, has led to military rule in several West and Central African countries.
While this would lead to a nighttime curfew, it has since been lifted. Furthermore, President Julius Maada Bio was careful to not mention the events as a coup attempt initially. However, troops with heavy machinery were seen in Freetown.
It all stems from the political tension Sierra Leone continues to face since a close election in June 2023. Such coups are popular in Africa lately as people search for the leadership they can trust and accountability in government.
There is no debate that such traits are important for any government body; however, militaries overthrowing the government can also lead to unwelcome side effects. For America, one of the main concerns is that terrorist organizations may find opportunities to gain power in regions and expand their influence in Africa.
Sierra Leone and Other African Coups Hurt Counterterrorism Operations
In recent years, military takeovers have occurred in several West African nations, with 10 attempted coups since 2020, mainly in West and Central Africa. Analyzing each case individually reveals the rapid erosion of democratic systems in the region.
Experts suggest that the optimistic reaction to military interventions reflects deep-seated frustration with civilian leaders in Africa. A problematic situation for regions in need of reliable leadership and methods of stifling terrorists.
The United States established diplomatic ties with Sierra Leone in 1961, post-independence from the UK, and maintains a warm relationship with the country. Though the nation avoids terrorism in many ways, there are concerns that this trend may turn.
Considering the Sierra Leone population is approaching 9 million, terrorism and unrest north of the nation is an area of concern. There are also substantial concerns about power vacuums emerging during the unrest.
America has helped prevent civil war in the region before and if history is an indicator, may do it again. However, with several rising conflicts on other continents, the U.S. is likely hoping that Sierra Leone maintains its peace on its own.